About Modern Qatar
The area now occupied by the country of Qatar has been inhabited for thousands of years. During most of that period, the area was a loose association of tribal groups. Eventually the area came under control of the Ottoman Empire. Prior to World War 1, the British declared the area a British protectorate after the withdrawal of the Ottomans. At that time, the economy was based on the harvesting of pearls. In 1971, Qatar became a sovereign Arab state, when an association of former British protectorates failed to form a common political association.
For more than 200 years, the Al-Thani family has been the rulers of Qatar. The policies of the At-Thani family managed to guide the area through minor political associations and treaties with nearby Arab countries. In truth, the country never felt safe, small and poor among its larger, wealthy neighbours. Realizing this historical point is how to understand the current foreign and domestic policy of Qatar as a sovereign nation.
Qatar’s petroleum reserves were first discovered in the early 1940’s but another world war delayed further exploration and development for some time. Qatar is now the richest, per capita, country in the Middle Eastern region. With Saudi Arabia, Qatar shares ownership of the world’s largest gas field.
Due to its history, Qatar and the Al-Thani family have taken steps to protect itself. Qatar has become a political force as a neutral country in a much-divided part of the world. For those that do not understand the insecurity Qatar experienced until recent years, the actions of the country are confusing.
Acting, in may ways, as the Switzerland of the middle east, Qatar has sought to balance the forces that surround the tiny nation. As many have realized even a good position and relationship with Qatar does not provide more than mutual respect to any party.
The Al-Thani family can rightly be proud of the manner in which Qatar has progressed under their rule. The people of the Qatar region have progressed from a traditional group of loose knit tribes to become the economic, military, social and cultural powerhouse that it is today.
Economically Qatar is able to take care of all of its citizens and, well ahead of the Arab spring of 2011, has been working on development of a national elected assembly since 2004. To ensure sovereignty and safety of the citizens of Qatar, the United States was offered a presence in Qatar for operating military bases.
To date there have been no restrictions on activities at these U.S. Qatar military bases or any of the operations that start there. In keeping with the policies of the Al-Thani rulers, Qatar also founded the Al Jazeera media presence, often accused of anti American sentiment. This exhibits again the balance and counter balance the ruling family seeks to maintain, insuring its sovereignty and neutrality.
Starting within the Middle East region and then spreading to Africa, Qatar has taken a lead role as mediator in many political and civil problems. Surprising many in the area have been truly neutral and conciliatory actions while simultaneously taking contradictory actions. Qatar is a supporter of the Palestinian cause but at the same time allowed and invited the leaders of Israel to a regional conference to present their position on problems between Israel and the Palestinians.
In the area of culture, Qatar is now, and has been since 2005 the major buyer of modern art in the world. To date almost 300 million U.S. dollars has been spent on art works, making Qatar, by far the dominant player in today’s art world. Qatar stunned the art world in 2011 by convincing senior members of the world famous Christie’s Auction house to assist in acquisitions of additional art treasures for the country of Qatar.
As the entire Gulf region grows in financial prominence Qatar, with its vast oil and gas reserves plans to play an important part. Major developments in sport facilities, housing and business projects are attracting people from all over the world. Already over 75 percent of the Qatar work force are expatriate workers.
With the military backing of the United States, political neutrality it guards jealously, and untold and untapped wealth from natural resources the future appears bright for Qatar. If there are clouds on the horizon, they have to come from the north. Qatar has tried to be a moderating force in positions of the United States and its northern neighbour Iran. Fortunately, Qatar and Iran are separated by the Sea of Oman.
Although much of what happens in the future is out of the control of the rulers and people of Qatar, the nation is doing all that it can to be a positive force in the area.
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